Hilton Head Island is a product of many cultures, backgrounds and personalities. Influences from the American Indian, African American, Spanish, French and British peoples are reflected in the names of places, plantations, and other parts of Hilton Head Island. We’ve highlighted a few and you’ll discover more via the tours available.
The Indian Shell Ring in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve dates back to 1450 B.C. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this mound of oyster shells, animal bones & clay provides a visible monument to the prolific oyster beds and to the Indians who made them one of their staples.
In 1521, the Spanish left their mark on the Island. Cordillo Parkway now bears the name of the Spaniard who discovered the harbor to Port Royal about the same time St. Augustine, Florida was founded. In 1562, Admiral Coligny sent Jean Ribaut to lead French Huguenots in a search of religious freedom and although France and Spain fought over the harbor for many years, Spain was eventually given the land in a treaty by the Roman Catholic Pope.
By 1663, England, made her bid for a place in the new world. Sir William Hilton, aboard the good ship “Adventure,” sighted tall pines as he searched for the entrance to Port Royal. Marking the spot on his map, sailors referred to this point as “Hilton Head.” Hilton’s glowing report of the fertile soil and ideal growing conditions on the island promoted British colonization.
1698 saw the establishment of large plantations as a result of barony land grants. In 1717, the agent for those original developers sold the land along Skull Creek. The real estate agent called the Island “Trench’s Island.” Settlers established large plantations. Indigo was the major crop on Hilton Head Island from the 1740’s until the Revolutionary War. The entire plant was soaked in water (and with the addition of crushed oyster shells, produced a blue dye valued for its vibrancy and intensity of color.)
Across the “toe” of Trench’s Island was “Dawfoskee”.Is has been accepted by most historians that Daufuskie (present spelling) got its name from the Yemassee Indian word that means “land with a point”, (referring to its shape which resembles a pointed feather). The pictured “D’Awfoskee” chart was published in 1776. The American Revolution fostered a need by the British military for charts and maps of America. Daufuskie (present spelling) Islanders (Tories), supported Britain in the Revolution, while Hilton Head Islanders supported the Colonists.
The Civil War was one of the busiest times on the island. Nearly 30,000 Union troops were stationed on Hilton Head after the “Battle of Port Royal Sound” on Nov 7, 1861. Fort Mitchel, built in 1862, and named for Gen. Ormsby Mitchel, who commanded the Union soldiers on Hilton Head in 1862, was part of the defense for the northern end of the Island during the Union occupation. (Remains of this Fort as well as other historical treasures have been preserved as vital treasures of our past. A 1861 map shows the original plantations and landmarks. (Leamington was called Leamington even in 1861. Developers have kept the Island history in mind as they have planned present Island developments.) Call The Coastal Discovery Museum 689-6767 and learn many more interesting details and make reservations to take one of their many special tours. If you are fascinated with old maps, call Time Again. 785-7791. They have published 3 magnificent editions of Old Maps of Hilton Head Island and the Low Country. Any one you select would make an outstanding addition to your home or as gifts for collectors.
“Modern” Hilton Head began in the 50s and the Island has seen phenomenal growth thanks to wise and carefully planned development. The term “plantation” had not been used since the turn of the century until the development of Sea Pines Plantation. Charles Fraser conceived and pioneered the concepts of respect for the environment. His philosophy was to offer amenities first (golf courses, marinas, bike paths, etc.) and development would follow. The result of that philosophy you see today. (Unfortunately, Mr. Fraser died in an untimely accident last year. He was buried under the Liberty Oak in Harbour Town. A fitting tribute to a man who meant so much to the recognition and growth of this island.) Hilton Head recognizes over 35,000 permanent residents and hosts more than two million visitors each year. (You’ll think they’re all here at the same time as you approach the Sea Pines Circle in the summer). The Island has become a year round resort destination.
There are two lighthouses on Hilton Head. The most famous is the 90 ft. tall Harbour Town lighthouse in Sea Pines. Climb to the top. Take your camera. (You’ll also find a great shop with the best selection of lighthouse memorabilia anywhere.) The other one is on the Arthur Hills Golf Course in Palmetto Dunes.
Turtle Lane is so named for the Loggerhead turtles who come to shore to bury their eggs then return to the sea (you’ll see white markers along the beach designating a protected area where Loggerheads make their way to their nesting area).
More than 250 species of birds return to Hilton Head during the year. “The Birders Guide to Hilton Head Island And The Lowcountry,” published by Hilton Head Audubon Society, is considered to be the ‘birders’ bible.
The South Carolina State Tree is the Sabal or Cabbage Palmetto. Hardiest palm along the coastal plain, the trunk is covered with overlays of thick husks. Palmetto means “small palm” in Spanish. This tree was a symbol of the Revolution. The Palmetto is pictured on our state flag & state seal. A full size replica of the tree stands on the grounds of the State Capitol in Columbia. It was erected as a memorial to the men of the Palmetto Regiment of South Carolina who fought in the Mexican War.
The State Shell is the Lettered Olive. Our State Bird, the Carolina Wren, is pictured on some SC license plates. Yellow Jasmine is the State Flower. The state dance is “The Shag”. The Peach, the state fruit, and the state beverage is (nope, not gin & tonic), but milk (1% or at least lowfat, I hope). (The state social drink is iced tea.) The state fish is the Bass. The state animal is the Whitetail Deer (Bambi & friends), not the alligator. Recently listed in the SC Legislative handbook is the state spider: the Wolf Spider. (Thanks to an elementary student from Orangeburg. )
Shaped like a shoe (toe, instep, heel and ankle), Hilton Head is about 12 miles long, up to 4 miles wide and encompasses about 42 square miles. The beach extends almost the entire length of the Island. Trees grow right up to the beachline. Beautiful palms and palmettos, magnolias, tall pines and ancient oak trees are abundant. This natural protection as well as God’s smile have preserved our Island from heavy storm damage.
Not “just another pretty place,” Hilton Head is a very special Island that more than 35,000 of us call home. Not without our growing pains (or maybe we can call them “growing gains”), we’re concerned with our environment and Island growth with its accompanying problems. We continue to define and implement ways to make our Island even better. Come again and be a part of the new history you are helping create on Hilton Head Island.